Friday, July 11, 2014

Muscle Mass & Strength from the Convenient Outlet - Study Proves, Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation Can Increase Muscle Size & Strength

NEMS devices are usually marketed as "ab trainers" - do you own one?
Convenience above everything! Although I personally believe that this mantra is to blame for most of the modern health issues, scientists from the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Institute for Convergence Study of Bio-Medical Wellness at the Yonsei University in Korea have now been able to demonstrate that you can counter part of the negative side effects of our post-modern convenience culture quite conveniently.

Plug an NMES device into your convenient outlet, attach it to your biceps, sit down conveniently in front of your television screen and have the device train your muscles.
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You don't believe that this works? Well, basically this is what the seven healthy male subjects who were recruited for the study did at the laboratory. The participants were trained two times per week (three subjects: Mondays and Thursdays; and four subjects: Tuesdays and Fridays) for 12 weeks. Each exercise session was performed for 30 min with no rest interval.
You could do this in front of your TV at home (image from Son. 2014)
"During the training, the subject was required to maintain a shoulder joint angle of 90° in the sagittal plane. The electrical stimulation (pulse width: 200μs; and frequency: 20 Hz (Dreibati et al., 2010)) was delivered through a pair of 5 × 5 cm gelcoated electrodes attached to the region of the biceps brachii muscle belly. The magnitude of the stimulation was determined as the subject's maximum comfortable current level, but no more than 80 mA, with complete elbowflexion from the fully extended state; the mean value was 57.00 (SD 4.28) mA." (Son. 2014)
I am not sure if this hurts, but based on my experience with a friends NMES ab trainer, I suppose it did... not convenient, ok, but still better than actually moving for most of the the members of the convenience generation, I'd guess - And I mean, you can't argue with results, right?
Figure 1: Maximal force and muscle thickness before and after the NMES training (Son. 2014)
I must admit I was quite impressed with the 8% increase in muscle size and the 23% increase in performance. Ok, the study doesn't tell us anything about the training experience of the subjects, but even if they were noobs that's more than I'd expected to see from two weekly sessions of NMES.
Figure 2: The training did not work for all participants (Son. 2014)
Bottom line: I am pretty sure there is a limit to the application of EMS as a means to increase muscle size & strength. Nevertheless two EMS sessions per week appear to be better than spending the same time on the sofa watching TV without an EMS device contracting your biceps and whatnot.

That being said, physical culturists like yourself probably benefit very little from EMS, unless you intend to stop training, these devices are probably useful only as an adjunct for those who would otherwise fry their nervous system by doing 100 sets of curls everyday... I mean, no voluntary contraction, no CNS overload; but honestly, I suspect that one or two days of full rest would be the better choice for anyone who fits into the "training junkie" category described, here.
  • Jongsang Son, Dongyeop Lee, Youngho Kim, Effects of involuntary eccentric contraction training by neuromuscular electrical stimulation on the enhancement of muscle strength, Clinical Biomechanics, Available online 10 June 2014.